AS indicated in our popular book Growing healthy vegetables in Spain November and December are the popular months in Spain for planting over-wintering garlic.
The garlic plants that grow can be harvested at two stages of growth.
- As young stems when like large spring onions.
- Grown to maturity for harvesting bulbs for storing in the late spring .
Since garlic needs little space crops can be grown in large flower pots on apartment terraces as well as in raised beds and the open garden. I planted in raised beds and containers last week and they were up within five days.
How to grow
Garlic is best grown by sowing individual cloves or segments broken off from sizeable bulbs. They are best grown in a friable well draining soil that was manured for preceeding crops but not in recently manured soils.
However if you have a wood burning stove or have had an autumn bonfire the ashes can be worked into the soil before planting or sprinkled around growing corms to top up the soil’s natural potash levels.
If you have a heavy soil, mix in some sand to improve the drainage and place a little sand under each clove when planted. It is wise to water garlic less than onions and if your vegetable plot is watered by a traditional flooding from irrigation channels or is liable to flood after heavy autumn rains it’s wise to sow garlic on the ridges between the flooded growing strips or specially prepared ridges in the normal growing areas.
Raised beds are excellent for growing garlic as the soil conditions are right and cloves can be planted only eight to 10 centimetres apart – although double that will often yield larger bulbs. When planting, if the soil is well prepared, it is sufficient to push each corm down into the soil until the tip is covered with 2 or 3 centimetres of soil. If planted more shallowly they can rise out of the ground after rain or when the roots start to grow. Alternatively dig narrow trenches or individual holes with a narrow trowel or stick.
The only care during the growing season will be to ensure they don’t dry out and weeding.
By the way garlic planted under or between rose bushes can help deter fungal attacks and aphids.
Obtaining garlic bulbs
Garlic bulbs are normally available at Agricultural Cooperatives in the vegetable growing areas. However it is more convenient in many areas to buy large bulbs in a local vegetable market, in greengrocers or from gypsies selling them outside supermarkets. When you break up the bulbs it is worth separating out the large from the small cloves and planting them separately. The larger cloves being left in the ground until maturity for harvesting bulbs and the smaller segments grown for the young stems that are excellent in salads, casseroles and in omelettes.
Although garlic is a major crop in Spain you are unlikely to find more than two or three varieties. One with a white outer skin, one pinkish and the other with a purple tint. If you tour Spain it is possible to buy traditional white, pink and purple skinned regional varieties in local markets but you may probably not be able to find out the names as bulbs have been passed down from generation to generation in the villages. Two named varieties we have come across are Morada and Rose de Lautrec.
If you were a garlic connoisseur before coming to Spain you might be interested in obtaining a collection of named varieties from different parts of Europe from The Garlic Farm(IOW), www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk, email@example.com, or telephone 0044-1983-865-378.
How much to plant
As outlined below there are so many ways of using garlic in Spanish cooking that we always run out, so we plant more and more each year. As a minimum we suggest you plant 50 cloves and if you have the space 300 or more. The more you plant the more you will have for harvesting as young tierno stems during the winter.
When to harvest
Young stems are normally harvested when they are about half to three quarters of a centimetre thick.
Mature bulbs are normally harvested when the leaves start to die back. If bulbs produce flower stalks cut these to half their length before they bud. This can stimulate larger bulbs.
Don’t worry if your harvested bulbs are smaller than the ones in the market. Indeed they may be packed with more taste.
Ensure that you thoroughly dry the harvested bulbs in the sun before storing. They can be stored in net sacks , shallow trays or if you have the patience plait them for hanging up.
- Young stems, ajos tiernos, for flavouring cooked dishes, chopped up in winter salads or steamed or fried and then mixed into omelettes. These have a mild taste more like spring onions and chives than mature garlic bulbs.
- Cloves from mature bulbs can be used as follows:
a. Chopped up by hand or in an electric herb chopper with tomato for spreading on bread for breakfast or to accompany tapas or soups. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stoned olives can also be added to the mix.
b. In a wide variety of soups, casseroles or baked dishes.
c. Stir fried or baked as a vegetable.
d. A full large bulb in the centre of a traditional oven cooked arroz al horno is an essential ingredient and decoration.
e. To give flavour to pickled olives.
f. Picked cloves in a salt/vinegar brine. These are eaten as a tapas in the same way as olives. The pickling removes the strong garlic taste.
g. As an infusion for a winter detox and a flu and cold relief as described in our book ‘Living well from our garden – Mediterranean style’
g. A decoction in water provides a useful insecticide and snail deterrent – see section 5.7 Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain, section6.7 Your garden in Spain and section 5.7 Growing healthy fruit in Spain.
© Dick Handscombe www.gardenspain.com November 2013.